Precinct committee officers with the Lewis County Republicans will convene a special meeting Tuesday, Oct. 26, to choose three candidates who will be considered by the two county commissioners to fill a vacant seat.
Lewis County’s 52 or so Republican precinct officers will convene the meeting to vote for the three candidates, one of whom will be chosen to serve out the final year of former Commissioner Gary Stamper’s four-year term.
Stamper, a Republican county commissioner and educator, died last week of health complications related to COVID-19. He was 67 and vaccinated against the viral disease.
It was standing room only Monday night as Lewis County Republicans met for their monthly in-person meeting. Over plates of homemade spaghetti and salad, a large part of the discussion revolved around the timeline and process of filling the vacancy on the Lewis County Board of County Commissioners.
“Gary was a fantastic guy,” said Lewis County Republicans Chair Brandon Svenson to a roomful of party members at the Winlock Community Building. “He was great to work with, even if we had a discussion that went a little sideways. He always smiled, shook your hand and gave you a little hug at the end of it.”
Commissioners Lindsey Pollock and Sean Swope, also Republicans, were in attendance at Monday night’s meeting. Lewis County Republicans and the Board of County Commissioners have a total of 60 days from Sept. 29 to appoint someone to the District 3 seat, though the Board of County Commissioners has requested the party take no more than 30 days to finish its side of the selection.
If no one is appointed to fill the seat within the 60-day deadline, then the decision falls on Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.
The Board of County Commissioners serves as the county’s primary legislating body. All commissioners work within the position full time and make approximately $90,866 in salary, as well as benefits. Commissioners also serve on the county board of health.
Though candidates don’t have to currently be serving as a Republican precinct officer, they do have to be a party member. Per state law, candidates will also have to currently be living within Commissioner District 3, which makes up a majority of East Lewis County.
Ron Averill, who’s served as Lewis County Republicans state committeeman since 1996 and is a former Lewis County commissioner, said he’s had to lead the delegation through the process of filling a vacancy six previous times, the most recent one being the 2016 appointment of Scott Tinney as county clerk.
Averill said the appointment process requires the party to convene the county Republican Central Committee, a voting body made up of all the county PCOs who were appointed or elected to their positions within the last 60 days.
The Central Committee must have a quorum of 20% of its body in order to call the meeting to order on Oct. 26, Averill said, which would be 11 Lewis County Republican precinct officers. Precinct officers are not allowed to use proxies in place of attendance.
During the meeting, precinct officers will hear from prospective candidates about why they should be chosen to represent the party. The Central Committee will then vote on which three candidates should be put forward for consideration to the Board of County Commissioners.
Though Monday night’s meeting wasn’t the proper venue for stump speeches or identifying a preferred candidate, a few names of interested candidates had been floated between party members.
Lee Grose, the former county commissioner who represented the district prior to Stamper, was in attendance. One person at his table attempted to advocate for him during an announcement period.
Grose told The Chronicle he didn’t want to make any statements at the moment on if he is planning on throwing his hat in the ring, though he acknowledged “my name’s out there.”
Roger Morningstar, the conservative Morton police chief who previously built an homage to former President Donald Trump in his front yard, declined to speak to The Chronicle.
Frank Corbin, a precinct officer who lives along Kirkland Road in Chehalis, said he’s currently considering a go at the position.
“I’ve given it thought and I would certainly consider that. I’m going to take a few days to think it through,” said Corbin, 62.
A 1977 Wahkiakum High School graduate, Corbin has served as a church pastor and as a servicemember in the U.S. Navy. He said he worked for Homeland Security after 9/11 in the Transportation Security Administration, and later worked in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Corbin said he retired almost five years ago and moved back to Lewis County to be closer to family.
“I’ve been waiting, praying, wondering what the next chapter of my life will be,” said Corbin, who’d previously served as a city councilor in Cascade Locks, Oregon, back in the late 1990s.
Averill said Monday night that he knew of at least four people who have expressed interest in going through the process to replace Stamper. He hopes more will consider applying.
“We’d like to give them a good choice,” Averill said.
Whoever is appointed by the Board of County Commissioners to the vacant seat will serve until the November 2022 general election results are certified. Stamper’s seat is up for reelection next year and could draw considerable interest with no incumbent in the mix.
Interest in the position has already created some buzz within the Lewis County Republicans. Svenson said he was even called the night of Stamper’s death by someone interested in taking his position, a detail the Republican chair denounced wholeheartedly in front of his party without naming the individual.
“I had better not ever have that happen again. It’s disrespectful,” he said.